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Center for Practitioner Research

Improving Education and Learning

ul 4.19.13

Vice Provost Message

Alison Hilsabeck, Vice Provost for Academic Programs, Faculty Development, and Research

For many years, NCE programs have fostered reflective practice by teaching methods and providing tools for practitioner research (PR). Practitioner research allows educators to study and reflect on their practice in a systematic way for the purpose of improving student learning outcomes.

In an era when policy makers and the public have demanded increased accountability from schools and educators at all levels, high stakes testing has generally formed the "currency" of that accountability. This approach has had the benefit of forcing society to see and attempt to address inequities in our educational system by identifying and continually reminding us of achievement "gaps" related to race, socio-economic status, disability, and other learner circumstances. However, it has frequently diverted focus from the complexity of what best practice might look like in response to the varied needs of learners in particular learning communities as well as diverting focus from many of the broader goals of education.

The basics that might be captured in standardized tests are important, but so is knowledge that is more difficult to capture in such tests. Standardized tests are limited in what they can tell us about the development of critical thinking and communication skills, the information gathering and evaluation skills that allow for informed citizenship, and other areas of knowledge, skills, and dispositions important to the pursuit of individual and societal health, happiness and productivity. They are also limited in terms of the feedback they can provide about the efficacy of particular educational practices and their relation to the needs of individual learners. Practitioner research impacts learning at the student, classroom, school, and district levels as teacher researchers utilize excellent research practices and connect with one another to provide instruction that is research-based, adapted to the needs of individual learners, and appropriate to the context of particular schools and communities. Well adapted learning environments should support both the content knowledge that is measured in standardized tests as well as the more complex educational goals.

Designing and managing educational environments so that all students will learn requires a high degree of professional knowledge and skill. It requires the ability to accurately diagnose learner characteristics and needs, as well as the ability to draw upon a wealth of pedagogical and content knowledge to design appropriate learning environments. It requires the educator to continually assess student learning and to refine teaching methods and learning environments to meet learner needs. Practitioner research methods provide systematic tools to support and expand the knowledge and skill of educators in these areas.

Practitioner research also has the potential to enhance the public perception of the professionalism of teachers by informing and providing evidence about what professional practice looks like and can accomplish. It further offers a unique scholarly voice to educators, because it is grounded in day-to-day professional practice and particularly sensitive to the needs and characteristics of individual students, classrooms, and communities. Although practitioner research is largely devoted to producing improved learning outcomes within specific educational settings (e.g. a teacher researcher’s classroom), the broad use and dissemination of practitioner research findings has the potential to contribute to our shared understanding of what constitutes best practices in varied educational settings and to inform educational policy at many levels. This authentic research voice for PK-12 educators has been largely missing in both scholarly and policy circles.

Recognizing the importance of this work, National College of Education now proposes to found a center for practitioner research. This center will advocate for practitioner inquiry as an essential form of educational research. The center’s mission will be to: (1) support, promote, nurture, and celebrate the use of practitioner research as a viable means for the enhancement of teaching and learning in schools and other educational organizations, and (2) encourage collaborative scholarship of practitioners within and across educational institutions.

This center will:

  • utilize action research and other research methodologies and reflective practice to inform and reform policy and practice.
  • be a learning organization continually engaged in the reflective practice cycle.
  • mentor and provide resources and training to a broad community of educators in the methods and uses of PR.
  • facilitate collaboration and connections among educators engaged in PR.
  • create multiple means (e.g.: conferences, research forums & roundtables, digital stories, interactive web site that serves as a research clearinghouse, "research friends," and so on), for dissemination and publication of PR.
  • use technology to facilitate examination, dissemination and deliberation of PR projects.
  • set PR research priorities for the College
  • attract grants and funding.

A broad group of faculty across disciplinary boundaries within the College has formed a task force for the development of the center. It is our hope that students, alumni, members of partnering organizations, and others will contribute their voice and talents to the formation of the center.


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